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The following grasses can tolerate occasional foot traffic but should not be considered as a replacement for areas that receive regular or heavy traffic. There is no substitute for traditional sod when it comes to heavy use areas.
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Bouteloua gracilis Blue Grama Grass

6-12” H x 12” W spreads by rhizomes (warm-season)*
This drought-tolerant warm-season grass tolerates full sun to light shade and moderate foot traffic. Stays low (around 6 inches high) but can be mowed once a month during the growing season to keep it manicured. If left in its natural state, it creates an attractive meadow effect with brush-like seedheads that rise above the foliage in early summer. Spreads slowly to form a sod, making it a good choice for large areas receiving fairly regular use. Requires water once every one to two weeks once established. Prefers good drainage.

Danthonia californica var. californica California Oatgrass

3-6” H (seedheads up to 18”) x 12” W (cool-season)
This naturally low-growing grass tolerates moderate foot traffic. Requires once or twice a week summer water inland, but is very drought-tolerant on the coast. Tolerates some shade and a wide range of soil types.

Festuca idahoensis Idaho Fescue

12-24” H x 12” W (cool-season)
This clumping bunchgrass looks good in masses. It’s an uneven surface for walking, but has a lawn-like appearance. Several cultivars are various shades of blue-green. Especially attractive are ‘Stony Creek’, ‘Muse Meadow’, and ‘Tomales Bay’. ‘Stony Creek’ can handle full sun but, like the others, does best with some afternoon shade. Once a week water once established. Prefers good drainage.

Festuca rubra Creeping Red Fescue

12” H x spreads by rhizomes (cool & warm season)
This shade tolerant native grass has a fine texture and a graceful natural habit. It begins by forming clumps, and then spreads by rhizomes. Some cultivars, such as ‘Patrick’s Point’, are blue-green. Looks best if given some shade and once or twice a week water in summer. Tolerates light traffic and can be mowed. Prefers good drainage.


Carexes (or sedges) are grass-like plants, some of which have a lawn-like appearance. They require more water than grasses, but they are evergreen and generally more shade tolerant.

Carex praegracilis California Field Sedge

6-8 inches H x spreading
Closely related to C. pansa, this naturally low-growing sedge spreads to form a solid evergreen lawn alternative that tolerates mild foot traffic.

Carex pansa Dune Sedge

8 inches H x 3’ W
Low-growing and evergreen, this sedge tolerates moderate foot traffic and a range of soil types.

Carex tumulicola Berkeley Sedge

10 inches H x 3’ W
An attractive bright green sedge with long arching leaves. Forms 3’ wide clumps. Has a lush meadow-like look. Tolerates some sun as well as deep shade and requires once or twice a week water.


The following are larger bunchgrasses that can be used as accents adjacent to lawns or among drought tolerant native plants.

Aristida purpurea Purple Three-Awn

2’ H x 6-12 inches W ((warm-season)
Beautiful small bunchgrass with purple seedheads that float above the foliage. Even dormant, this is an attractive plant, especially in masses. Very tolerant of heat, drought, and a range of soil types.

Bouteloua curtipendula Side Oats Grama

1-3’ H x 1-2’ W spreads by rhizomes (warm-season)
An attractive drought-tolerant warm-season grass that does well in full sun inland with once a week water. It can survive on less water, but will go dormant earlier. Blooms in late spring to summer. Prefers good drainage.

Festuca californica California Fescue

1-2’ H x 2-3’ W (warm & cool season)
A medium-size bunchgrass for areas that can be watered once or twice a week. Best with full sun on coast and some shade inland. Foliage of California fescue reaches 12-18 inches high with seedheads reaching 3 to 4 feet in spring and summer. Tolerates a wide range of soil types.

Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’ Giant Wild Rye

4’ H x 3’ W spreads by rhizomes (warm)
A lovely blue-green ornamental grass with stiff upright leaves and showy seedheads in early summer. Spreads slowly by rhizomes. Can tolerate water or drought as well as heavy clay soils.

Muhlenbergia rigens Deer Grass

3’ H x 3’ W (warm & cool season)
A handsome mounding bunchgrass that tolerates both water and drought. Large green clumps send up 5-6 foot tall seedheads that make this grass a striking accent. Tolerates clay soils.

Nassella pulchra Purple Needlegrass

1-3’ H x 1’ W (cool-season)
This delicate ornamental bunchgrass is also our state grass (yes we have a state grass). Looks best in masses. Foliage is around 1 foot high with purplish seedheads up to 3 feet. Tolerant of drought and a range of soil types. Equally attractive are Nassella lepida (Foothill Needlegrass) and N. cernua (Nodding Needlegrass).

Sporobolus airoides Alkali Sacaton

3-4’ H x 2’ W (warm-season)
Upright ornamental bunchgrass with showy seedheads in summer that last for many months. Very drought-tolerant and adaptable to many soil types, including clays and salty soils.

Also try: Andropogon glomeratus, Bothriocloa barbinodis, Deschampsia cespitosa ssp. holciformis (Tufted hair grass), Glyceria grandis, Melica imperfecta

NOTE: The season (warm/cool) refers to the growing season, when the plant will be greenest and seeds will germinate.